Taj Gibson has endured a tumultuous season, to say the least. Gibson’s left ankle, which he sprained against Portland in November and re-injured against Minnesota in February, has prevented the sixth-year forward from playing a consistent stretch of games all season. With the regular season coming to an end on Wednesday, Gibson is finally getting his chance to show what he can do come playoff time.
Gibson is in the midst of his healthiest stretch all season, having played in 12 consecutive games. Gibson has especially looked crisp as of late, averaging 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 58.5 percent from the floor over his past five games. Gibson couldn’t have started rounding into shape at a better time with the playoffs right around the corner. Considering some of the teams Chicago will have to face, Gibson will be crucial this postseason.
The Bulls are currently the No. 3 seed in the East with a record of 49-32, but Toronto controls its own destiny with two games left in the season. The Raptors own the tie breaker with the Bulls since they won their division, so Chicago will have to wait and see if Toronto can finish the season beating the Celtics on the road and Charlotte at home. The Bulls will face the Wizards, and potentially the Hawks in the second round, if the Raptors win out. Chicago will face Milwaukee, and potentially Cleveland in the second round, if Toronto doesn’t. Either way, Gibson will be a key piece in any playoff series for the Bulls.
Chicago has no shortage of big men with Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and rookie sensation Nikola Mirotic, but what makes Gibson so dependable is that unlike Gasol and Noah, Taj doesn’t hurt the Bulls on either end. Despite his shot-blocking prowess this season, Gasol is overmatched at times defensively. The likes of Nene, Marcin Gortat, and Timofey Mozgov have had success against Gasol this season. Noah is a stalwart defensively, but his offensive shortcomings are well-documented. Noah’s a highly gifted passer, but that’s it as far as offense goes for him. Gibson has the ability to produce on both ends.
Offensively, Gibson has become an outstanding post player. Gibson isn’t the biggest player, but he has wiry strength that he uses to get good post position. Gasol, Noah and even Mirotic are among the best big men in the league at feeding the ball into the post. Gibson posts up on 28.5 percent of his plays and is shooting 45.5 percent, ranking in the 73rd percentile in the league according to Synergy. In comparison, Gasol posts up on 28.7 percent of his plays but ranks in just the 64th percentile.
Gibson uses an array of post moves, with up-and-under and spins being his go-to moves. Gibson is among the best players in the league at getting players to bite on fakes in the post as he’s fouled in the act of shooting on 20.2 percent of his post-ups, ranking 10th in the league, per Synergy (min. 10 percent of plays from the post). He is no longer just a dunker, he’s molded into a crafty scorer. Those post moves can come in handy against a team like Cleveland that struggles to guard in the paint.
Despite his improved offense, Gibson’s bread and butter is on defense.
Just name the set and chances are Gibson is among the better big men in the league at defending it.
PnR Man: 88.5 percentile
ISO: 80th percentile
Post-up: 72.3 percentile
Spot-up: 58th percentile
Opponent’s field-goal percentage at the rim: Team best 45.3 percent, ranking seventh in the league (min. 5 FGA at rim per game)
***Statistics courtesy of Synergy and SportVu
Gibson is an extremely mobile defender for a big man when healthy. He’s more than capable of defending a stretch-four out on the perimeter or even battling a post juggernaut closer to the paint. This kind of versatility would be crucial in any series, but especially in a potential second round matchup against Atlanta. A frontcourt of Al Horford and Paul Millsap would be a matchup nightmare against Gasol and Noah. Noah has been asked to defend stretch-fours all season, but his own injury troubles have made that problematic. Noah has been moving gimpy all season after his knee surgery. Gasol has nowhere near the mobility to guard on the perimeter. Gibson’s length and mobility will make him an easy plug-and-play against a wide range of possible opponents this postseason. Gibson is also an underrated rebounder.
Gibson’s rebound percentage of 12.8 dwarfs that of Gasol’s 18.6 percent, but Taj is much better at boxing out and coming up with 50-50 boards. Gibson’s contested rebound percentage is 52.4 percent, which ranks only behind Brook Lopez and Enes Kanter among league leaders, per SportVu (min. 25 minutes per game). Gasol is far behind Gibson at 36.4 percent, showing that Pau’s rebounds are largely uncontested. Gibson snares the ball at it’s highest point and uses his strength to gain position. Gibson’s rebounding skills will be paramount against ferocious offensive rebounders such as Tristan Thompson, Zaza Pachulia, Gortat, Horford and Millsap.
Gibson doesn’t put up the most gaudy numbers in the league. Averaging a mere 10.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game isn’t going to blow anyone away. But come playoff time when the only number that matters is a “4”–in terms of wins– at the end of a series, there aren’t many better players to have on your team than Taj Gibson.